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Written by Larry Kuznar, PhD, Chief Cultural Sciences Officer
Have you felt the thrill of an Alliance victory or humiliation at a Horde defeat in World of Warcraft? Have you felt the brotherhood of being an Assassin fighting the machinations of the Knights Templar in Assassin’s Creed? Have you placed an optical sight bead on a Spetsnaz operator in Call of Duty? If so in all of these cases and so many more, you have been transported into an alternate reality in which you have assumed an identity with a group against another group. How does that happen?
NBI researchers, working from anthropological studies of myth and applications to national security problems, have identified specific ways that language can be used to transport a consumer, and most important, captivate that consumer into that alternate reality. The parallels between real world political movements and the gaming world are fascinating if not chilling and vice versa. Consider the following powerful themes that have motivated people to join political (or even extremist) movements, and in other contexts, drive game play.
A sense of defiance against being victimized is often a galvanizing force that transports an individual into another’s world.
- “We will never be slaves!” World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor
- “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Patrick Henry, 1775.
Religious themes resonate with all people that take one above one’s worldly existence.
- Fear of the power of religion “these new religions are so convenient, and promise such terrible punishment should one reject them. I worry that fear shall keep us stuck to what is surely the greatest lie ever told.” Asassins’s Creed
- Star Wars: The conflict between the light side and dark side of The Force contains deep religious overtures and constructs; “The Force will be with you. Always.” Obiwan Kenobi to Luke before being cut down by Darth Vader
- For centuries, religious themes have been used by leaders to justify attacks. Examples abound from such diverse times and events as the Crusades, early conflict between what is now Pakistan and India, current extremist organizations such as Taliban and ISIS, and the Buddhist Uprising in Vietnam.
Glorified sacrifice and martyrdom resonate with people.
- You will die with me! CoD Black ops
- “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Attributed to Nathan Hale, 1776, but may have been crafted by Revolutionary Forces to create a rallying cry for their cause.
The anthropologist Lionel Tiger pointed out in his classic 1969 book, “Men in
Groups”, graphic violence is especially resonant to young males, in modern times,
often for nefarious purposes
- Scenes of the bloody axe drawn from the skull of enemy – Warlords of Draenor
- Then know that our knife is sharp and hard. It cuts off the hands and strikes the necks. Al Adnani 2014 ISIS
These few examples highlight key themes that are intended to inspire action for what is being portrayed as an exalted cause, whether that cause is in real life or in a video game. Many of these themes can still be found in abundance, in current political discourse. These factors tap into deeply rooted sociological and cultural tendencies, regardless of era or ethnicity.Why is this important for video game companies to understand? In mapping player
Why is this important for video game companies to understand? In mapping player journeys, and understanding how to keep people engaged throughout the game, careful management and monitoring of these themes is critical in maintaining active users and lowering churn. Specifically:Are themes such as victimization, religious, martyrdom/sacrifice, or calls to
- Are themes such as victimization, religious, martyrdom/sacrifice, or calls to action portrayed in the game carried through to how the community talks about a game or identifies with a faction?
- How does this carry through to merchandizing and symbol adoption?
- When does inter-factional discourse cross a line and create community toxicity?
Our approach is to apply these cultural/anthropological concepts to thematic and sentiment analysis of player discourse, to help minimize churn, guide merchandizing decisions, and maximize DLC uptake. Every game has its own unique language and culture, and as a result, these themes are expressed differently for different games. However, understanding and managing them can mean the difference between a “one and done” approach to campaign mode, versus an ongoing transition into player-vs.- player modes, and willingness to continue to engage with a particular faction within a game.